VP Harris leaves for trip to Vietnam, Singapore amid Afghanistan fiasco

Biden administration said Harris will emphasize the US commitment to the region

Vice President Kamala Harris departed Friday on a trip to Singapore and Vietnam, just as the Biden administration is grappling with ongoing chaos in Afghanistan.

The trip to the Asian nations comes after she traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in June. Senior administration officials said the trip would focus on three issues: global health, economic partnership and security.

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The trip to Singapore will include conversations with Singapore President Halimah Yacob and a bilateral meeting with the prime minister. The vice president will deliver remarks aboard a U.S. combat ship outlining plans for U.S. engagement in the region.

In Vietnam, she will hold a virtual meeting with Association of Southeast Asian Nations health ministers and visit a new regional office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On the way back to the U.S., she will visit troops stationed in Hawaii.

Harris will likely use the trip to address the issue of growing Chinese power and influence – including the communist regime’s efforts to take control of the South China Sea and issues regarding trade and security.

"The administration is focused on maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This trip will further that goal, and the Vice President will advance that vision in all of her meetings," a senior administration official said on a call with reporters this week. 

"The administration is also making clear that we have an enduring commitment to this region, that we're part of the Indo- Pacific and in the region to stay," they said.

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The trip has raised questions about why Harris is going as the administration grapples with the crisis in Afghanistan, which has drawn comparison to the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.

Just before she departed for the trip, Harris appeared alongside President Biden as he defended the administration’s handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, which has seen chaotic scenes as Americans and Afghans have sought to escape the country as the Taliban closed in ahead of the U.S. withdrawal at the end of the month.

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Administration officials said that Harris would be in constant contact with Washington during the trip. 

"And we can do more than one thing at a time," one official said. "And we're going to do more than one thing at a time as we focus on these two huge priorities for the United States." 

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Harris’ trip to Guatemala and Mexico was not without incident. She was criticized by liberal groups for giving a stern "do not come" message to potential migrants in Central America. Meanwhile, Republicans took aim at her over an interview in which she laughed off a question about why she hadn’t yet been to the border by quipping: "And I haven’t been to Europe." She visited the border later in the month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.